Uterine Sarcoma: Chemotherapy
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy uses anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines are made to attack and kill cancer cells that grow quickly. Some normal cells also grow quickly. Because of this, chemotherapy can also harm those cells. This can cause side effects.
When might chemotherapy be used to treat uterine sarcoma?
Your doctor may advise chemotherapy in any of these cases:
You have had surgery to remove uterine sarcoma. Chemotherapy can help kill any remaining cancer cells.
To shrink the cancer before surgery, so it's easier to remove.
The cancer doesn’t appear to have spread outside the uterus, but you have risk factors for the spread of the cancer.
You’re being treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.
You’re being treated with a combination of hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
The cancer has spread and can’t be controlled with other treatments.
The cancer has returned after you have been treated.
How is chemotherapy given for uterine sarcoma?
Chemotherapy is most often given into your blood through an IV (intravenous line) that's put into a vein. It may also be taken by mouth as a pill, or as an injection. The treatment is most often done as an outpatient visit to a hospital infusion center. You go home the same day. Or it may be done at your healthcare provider’s office, a chemotherapy clinic, or at home. In some cases, you may stay in the hospital during treatment.
If you need to have an IV for each cycle of chemotherapy, it can be helpful to have a vein (venous) access device or an indwelling catheter. A catheter is a thin, flexible tube. The catheter would stay in place between cycles. This is done so that you don't have a new IV started each time you get treatment. One end of the tube is placed into a vein near your heart. The other end is placed just under the skin or comes out through the skin. The medicine can then be connected to it when you have treatment. Your healthcare team will talk with you about the risks and benefits of a venous access device or indwelling catheter.
You get chemotherapy medicine in cycles over a period of time. That means you may take the medicine for a set amount of time and then you have a rest period. Each period of treatment and rest is 1 cycle. You may have several cycles. Having treatment in cycles helps by:
Killing more cancer cells. The medicine can kill more cancer cells over time, because cells aren't all dividing at the same time. Cycles allow the medicine to fight more cells.
Giving your body a rest. Treatment is hard on other cells of the body that divide quickly. This includes cells in the lining of the mouth and stomach. This causes side effects, such as sores and nausea, and drops in your blood counts. Between cycles, your body can get a rest from the chemotherapy.
Giving your mind a rest. Having chemotherapy can be stressful. Taking breaks between cycles can let you get an emotional break between treatments.
What types of medicines are used to treat uterine sarcoma?
In most cases, 2 or more medicines are used together. This is called combination therapy. The medicines most often used for uterine sarcoma include:
Which medicines you get and how often you get them depend on many factors. If you get chemotherapy, you may have it along with another type of cancer treatment.
What are common side effects of chemotherapy?
Side effects are common with chemotherapy, but it's important to know that they can often be prevented or controlled. The side effects usually go away when the treatment ends. Side effects depend on the type and amount of medicines you’re taking. They vary from person to person.
Some common side effects include:
Nausea and vomiting
Constipation or diarrhea
Infections from low white blood cell levels
Easy bruising or bleeding from low blood platelet levels
Tiredness from low red blood cell levels
Loss of appetite
Skin problems, such as dryness, rash, blistering, or darkening skin
Tingling, numbness, or swelling in hands or feet
Most side effects will go away or get better between treatments and a few weeks after treatment ends, although some be long lasting or even permanent. You may also be able to help control some of these side effects. Tell your healthcare providers about any side effects you have. They can help you cope with the side effects and try to keep them from getting worse.
Working with your healthcare provider
It's important to know which medicines you're taking. Write your medicines down, and ask your healthcare team how they work and what side effects they might have.
You will have blood tests done regularly while you're getting chemotherapy to make sure you aren't having harmful reactions. Make sure you ask which problems mean you should call your healthcare provider right away. For example, chemotherapy can make you more likely to get infections. Make sure you know what number to call with questions. Is there a different number for evenings and weekends?
Your healthcare provider may advise you to call if you have any of these symptoms:
Redness, swelling, and warmth at the site of an injury or IV catheter
New cough or shortness of breath
Burning during urination
It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.